Monday, December 5, 2011

Melancholia (B+)

Enjoyment and appreciation are two very different aspects to how a film can be classified as "good". Though occasionally a movie can be judged solely on one of these aspects, perhaps a goofy children's movie, usually it takes a combination of the two to create a "good" film. However, if your name happens to be Lars von Trier, this newly created rule does not in any way, shape, or form apply to you. If your name is Lars von Trier, you have full permission if not the expectation to show the audience a film that is almost impossible to truly enjoy on any level, but still be able to honestly appreciate the masterwork of. Lars von Trier is a director unlike any other working today; a man who creates depressing and occasionally downright wretched works of cinema which contain an almost unbearable brutal honesty, whose masterful camerawork forces the viewer to engage themselves in the beauty of the horrors (both physical and emotional) that await. When you are Lars von Trier, enjoyment is only a minuscule detail in the grand scheme of cinema. (If this description of the famed director sounds a bit cruel, regrettably the only two films I've seen by him until now have been Dogville and Antichrist, two of the most troubling films to be released in the past few years. Or at least that I've seen).

Melancholia follows my previously stated outline for Trier cinema almost to the tee. Running at almost two-and-a-half hours long, the film takes its time slowly chronicling two seemingly separate yet emotionally linked apocalypses: One the collapse of a woman's personal life and emotional state on her fairy tale wedding night, and the other the complete annihilation of life on earth by a rouge planet's interplanetary collision. Though sitting through two separate personal apocalypses without knowing the outcome of either may seem like a grueling experience for the audience, Trier forces the audience to know the doomed fate of these characters by showing us the final ten minutes as a silent prologue into the film. While this does eliminate a sense of mystery for these character's fates, it also forms the film into one unending crescendo of dread. In the world of Lars von Trier, there can be melancholy endings, but no happy endings.

Two-and-a-half hours of waiting for a group of character's inevitable demise may seem like a dull experience, but fine performances from nearly every cast member and Trier's masterful direction turn the film into two apocalyptic character studies: In part one regarding the depressed bride Justine, and in part two regarding the paranoid and nervous Claire. As Justine's depression fluctuates throughout the film, watching these two almost equally disturbed people flip-flop on their dependance upon one another felt like a rarely explored relationship between two characters. Both Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg bring the emotion necessary to their roles, especially Dunst who is forced with the difficult task of making a horribly depressed almost sleepwalking person seem compelling to the audience. In this task she undoubtably succeeds.

The sole flaw this film contains are its slightly unnecessary subplots during the "wedding apocalypse" plot of the story. Many scenes involving divorced parents and current employers fail to work simply because the audience is far more interested in the actual groom and the bride's family themselves, but this is only a minor complaint. In general, this is another "gloomy" film from Lars von Trier, but does that necessarily have to mean a bad thing? With gorgeous visuals, incredible performances from its two leads, and a generally thought provoking plot, Trier compensates for his severe lack of audience enjoyment by making what truly is a stunning film.

Grade: B+

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